Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
In the fourth and final MTYT installment for April 2021, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson provide their take on Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera. The Young Adult novel was the winner of the Pura Belpré Award.
MARY: The novel, Never Look Back, tells a love story about two teens, Pheus and Eury. The teens meet after Eury arrives in the Bronx to spend a few weeks with her cousin as a way to relax and take her mind off of her troubles in Miami. Pheus, a bachata musician, is spending the summer with his father who lives in the same building as Eury’s relatives. Eury and Pheus fall in love and all goes well until Eury’s troubles find her in the Bronx. Pheus is stunned to learn that Eury’s troubles are caused by an evil spirit, Ato, who wants to take Eury away to live with him in the underworld forever. Readers are pulled into a fantasy world where Pheus must travel if he is to save Eury from Ato.
Rivera’s novel, Never Look Back, is a modern Afro-Latinx take on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. I found that my familiarity with the myth helped me better understand the story, but I think readers would be able to read the novel without this prior knowledge.
VIOLET: I agree, Mary. I do think that readers will be drawn into this book. Through Pheus and Eury’s voices, readers quickly learn about these complex characters and their stories. I did not have prior knowledge about the Greek myth itself. However, Eury’s story as a survivor of Hurricane Maria and the emotional and psychological trauma she endured also brings to light the stigma behind mental health therapy, as was also written in the acknowledgments. This angle of the book extremely compelled me. In the acknowledgments, Rivera discusses research that states that “Latinas have had among the highest rates of depressive symptoms and suicide rates compared to other groups for over thirty years, but only one in eleven Latinas ever seek treatment” (p. 311). This is such a crucial area for which to call attention with young adults and the overall population. It is brilliant how Rivera interwove these elements together to tell this beautiful and powerful story.
MARY: Thank you, Violet, for bringing the emotional and psychological trauma Eury faces to the forefront. Shedding light on the subject is one way we can change the perspectives held about trauma and mental health issues. I think that Pheus also serves as a model for someone who might wonder how to offer support. The love and care he had for Eury was touching. Pheus also wanted to help Eury. He was willing to take action to help her, even if it meant risking his own life.
One thing that stayed in the back of my mind while I was reading was that, in the Greek myth, Eurydice dies. I kept thinking, “Will Eury die at the end of this novel?” I didn’t want to believe that Rivera would create these two compelling characters embraced in a love story only to have Eury die at the end. I won’t give up the ending and spoil it for our readers!
VIOLET: Yes, so true, Mary, Pheus does serve as a model for someone who might wonder how to show support. As you mentioned, the love they each have for each other is very touching and they both shared some very tender moments I hope will warm readers’ hearts. Though, we will not spoil the ending. I hope that by providing our take on Never Look Back, WOW readers will find their favorite reading spot and enjoy the moments of this book, as well.
Title: Never Look Back
Author: Lilliam Rivera
PubDate: September 15, 2020
Throughout April 2021, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson discuss 2021 Pura Belpré award winners and honor books. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!